Monday, August 4, 2008

B-Ball vs Futbol

I like basketball. I play it when I can. I've been a fan for a long, long time. But something it's still a bit strange to see the absolute wall-to-wall, bounce by bounce coverage of the U.S. basketball team at the Olympics. My theory is that it reveals something about American attitudes - let me share this shocking revelation: People in the U.S. love a winner.

Many Americans are not interested in the noblesse of suffering along with their team(Cubs fans perhaps excepted). They want to bet on the winner, the sure thing, the favorite. At the Belmont this past year, there wasn't frenzied cheering when the upstart longshot won. That's because almost everybody had bet on Big Brown.

Now, I know that USA Basketball has fallen on some hard times recently, but the team is always going to be one of the top contenders for gold. I also realize that part of the attraction for coverage is the fact that there are marquee names like Kobe and LeBron involved.

Still, the daily reports, the updated practice quotes, the breathless minute-by-minute of yet another pre-Olympic triumph, the measuring of who sweat how much every game - it's getting to be a bit much.

I guess I don't really understand the thrill of watching an almost-sure-thing unfold. Isn't it more exciting when the degree of uncertainty is raised?

For example, will the U.S. men's soccer team even score a goal? That's a big unknown.

Some of the win-win thinking transfers to those who follow league play, too. I've talked to friends who are fans of soccer leagues in other countries (Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc) and more than a few of them complain that MLS is too competitive. They want to root for an underdog or a top dog and they can't really decide which is which.

For example, one guy asked me earlier this season how many league titles the Revolution have won. Well, that answer is infamous, but does it really make the Revs underdogs? Underachievers? Or does their excellent record year to year in the face of challenges make them overachievers?

In terms of number of titles, well, DC United lay a big claim there, but is that almost like Uruguay winning early World Cup victories? Almost all those DC wins came when the rest of the league was still finding its footing. Are the Dynamo the true dynasty now?

Every season, these questions and more are debated and perhaps even answered.

At some point, however, there's going to be a shift in the way things are structured, though. It's not just some fans who want winners - some owners want the leeway to bring impact players in without always bumping up against league restrictions. That will probably lead to less parity. Fair is a relative concept of course, because some would argue it's unfair to have a willing spender be denied by a league cap that more thrifty owners are fine with.


Anonymous said...

I thought we had our "Winners" in the league fabricated and manipulated Galaxy.


RHYbread said...

I think that the American soccer fan who is an avid follower of USMNT and MLS realizes that for soccer to become truly big in America will only come after success for the Nats. Medalling in the Olympics would be a huge step in the right direction, but I don't think we'll see a huge breakthrough in terms of public sentiment towards the game till we show well in the World Cup, a semi-final appearance at the very least.

While I'm fully behind USWNT and its ilk, the sorority image it puts forth is a huge turnoff for the casual fan. And the fact remains that it's a womens team.

MLS is so very uniquely American that it's easy to see why the soccer fan, foreign or Eurosnob, who takes in the world game would have trouble resolving the flat playing field. I personally love the parity. The opportunity to compete for a title year in an year out will always keep the leage interesting, unlike the increasingly stratified European leagues. The only barrier to success is an organizations management of their money and talent, not the strength of their brand (more money) ala Bayern or Real, or a run of well-timed success like ManU.

Long term, I think MLS is much better poised as a product to attract new fans, especially Americans, as the quality of play improves and the league is able to retain young talent as salaries increase.

Anonymous said...

USA Basketball hasn't won for a while....

CACuzcatlan said...

Forget these bandwagon fans that only love winners. We support the national team and MLS 100% of the time. The only negative aspect I can see to the US winning the World Cup are all the bandwagon fans that will all of a sudden love soccer and the national team.

And there have only been 7 WC winners. So what happens in the US wins and then goes 60 years without winning again? Its not a good strategy to try to grow soccer in the US on the strength of the national team. A much better strategy is to have people truly fall in love with the sport. Then they'll support it regardless of how the national team does.

Anonymous said...

I agree with cacuzcatlan, putting the success of soccer completely on the success of the USMNT is risky in a way. It's like when the US beat Russia in the Miracle on Ice, and got everybody hockey crazy for awhile. But now? Most Americans could care less really. While it might help in the short run, it wouldn't be exactly the answer to long term success.

alejandro said...

Hey! Those Uruguay titles are fresh in the minds of some, who cannot even claim a father born then. Those four stars are quite highly remembered.

RHYbread said...

Who's talking about growing love for soccer? You only grow love by playing it. I'm talking about respectability.

I have plenty of friends that could give a nut about basketball. They don't really like or understand the game. Over the course of an NBA season, while I spend my time keeping track of the Lakers and my favorite players, they sort of ignore the game. But during things like the NBA finals, and now the Olympics, they'll watch the games because of what the competition represents.

The average sports fan might not love a soccer team like we love ours, but as far as gaining legitimacy in the eyes of the public, proving our worth on the international stage is far more beneficial than asking Joe Random to keep track of overseas players performing at a high level.

starinyourfire said...

i think as a country we expect so much from our teams to do well, but in those popular american sport(basketball,track,gymnastics,swimming,etc) as we all know USWNT is a powerhouse but tends to get little or no attention in mainstream media(which is a fucking shame, i say fucking for emphasis but really US has produced great players on the women's side and they should have more attention than what they already have now), my guess if the mens get gold there will be a minor boost of attention to that accomplishment and might attract two types of fans.

1. the curious spectator
2. the casual sports who always thinks soccer powerhouses only win stuff.

it is what it is, if there are numbers of bandwagoners. one can only hope that they really follow the sport and be more than the casual fan.

MLS can only hope to reap the benefits of these type of fans, i look at the current season right now and see similar story lines from this past NBA season(let me tie it together) strong east, weak west(NBA: strong west, weak east) close race in the standings in the west(NBA: western conference). then you have individual player story lines.

playoffs should be interesting since it's close and a couple of teams are involved in tournaments and not just the league.

bottom line here how i see between Futbol and basketball. Futbol in the states doesn't have much to lose since you don't hear criticism year round like basketball does, if team USA does less than gold the media won't shut up about how they failed to get it and will perhaps question the NBA as the best league in the world(have you seen a certain greek team making bids for NBA players lately?). Futbol is flying under the radar with something to prove, hopefully in this year they can begin the start of something to bring more attention to this sport.

Anonymous said...

when was the last time the US basketball team won a tournament? i'm not sure how certain a gold is, there is still some doubt.

starinyourfire said...

the last gold was in 1996 or 1992 i believe

RHYbread said...

Team USA won gold in 2000, and bronze in 2004.